Are we really any closer to finding life on Mars?

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While the massive dust storm is blocking the sky, the sunlight reaching the NASA rover is gradually diminishing. Originally, its mission was only supposed to last 90 days.

The Opportunity rover of NASA has been sidelined by a huge dust tempest on Mars, halting the science work of the robot as it hangs around the still-growing storm.

As the rover team prepared the contingency plan to deal with the situation, the storm grew more intense than expected.

The swirling dust is impacting Opportunity's solar panels, which it uses to recharge its batteries and power the heaters that allow the rover to function in the extreme cold conditions of Mars.

And this is a problem - unlike Curiosity, which launched later with a nuclear generator, Opportunity relies on solar panels for power, and batteries for storage. The storm quickly grew to cover over 7 million square miles (18 million square kilometers) and swept across Perseverance Valley where Opportunity is located.

"Full dust storms like this one are not surprising, but are infrequent", according to a NASA statement. On June 6th, the power levels of the Rover seems to have a major drop, and it forced to stop all the science experiments to conserve power. That led to two weeks of minimal operations, including several days with no contact from the rover to save power. In 2007, a much bigger dust storm covered Mars. It's not unlike running a auto in the winter so that the cold doesn't sap its battery charge.


NASA said, "There is a threat to Opportunity if the tempest continues for too long and rover gets freeze while lingering for the skies to clear".

This storm is bad, but Opportunity is made of hardy stuff. Despite this, both rovers have vastly exceeded expectations: they were only created to last 90 days each.

NASA announced on Friday that the Opportunity rover is now being hit by the worst dust storm it's ever experienced in the 15 years since it landed on Mars.

The hope is bolstered even more with the recent discovery of organic compounds on Mars by the Curiosity rover.

It also goes without saying that men or women who will make the trip to another planet should be able to get back, which means blast off needs to be possible from Mars. The updrafts of dust can trigger more winds, triggering a feedback loop that fuels the birth of a dust storm.

Finding methane in the atmosphere and ancient carbon preserved on the surface gives scientists confidence that NASA's Mars 2020 rover and ESA's (European Space Agency's) ExoMars rover will find even more organics, both on the surface and in the shallow subsurface.

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